5 top tips for mastering law firm networking events   

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By Legal Cheek on

Legal Cheek explains…

Networking — you either love it or you hate it.

While Covid certainly took the heat off with online interactions becoming the only option, we’re now back to in-person networking, with all the (awkward) standing around and foot shuffling that comes with it. Whether you’re wondering what to do on an insight day or have a vac scheme coming up, here’s some tips on navigating networking.

1. Have some ‘starter’ questions to hand

Networking events can often have a somewhat strange dynamic that feels oddly pressured and stilted. You might be at a loss regarding what to questions to ask, a conversation might come to an abrupt end or you might just find your social battery drained.

So, it’s always helpful to have three to four questions to start off a conversation as you move around the room and meet a new person. Introduce yourself, smile and be friendly. It’s important that you don’t come across as simply wanting to ask incisive questions just to memorable. It’s far more effective if you go in with the mindset of getting to know a person.

Starting off with questions like “how’s your day/week been?”, “what kind of things are you working on at the moment?” (after introductions, of course) can be quite good — they’re broad enough that the other person can go into a good level of detail, allowing you to follow up with questions on their practice area and their time at the firm.

It also helps to go into networking events with a strategic approach of the kinds of things you’re most interested in. For instance, if there’s a particular practice area you want to learn about, have an idea of the questions you’d ask to glean this information and the lawyers best suited to answering them. Going in with a plan is likely to ensure you get the most out of the interactions you have so that they are tailored to your interests.

2. Listen!

It’s also important that you don’t go into networking activities with a long list of questions and just rattle these off. When it boils down to it, all you’re doing is having conversations. So, make sure you are actually listening to the responses to receive, and engage with these to ask your follow-up questions. Otherwise, the whole interaction is going to feel disjointed and unnatural.

This might seem like an obvious point, but it’s easy to be so preoccupied with coming up with more questions that you forget to listen to what’s being said. There are multiple ways of engaging with and continuing a conversation, and asking questions is just one of them. You can also build on what the other person has said, for instance, by sharing your own experiences. Treat these interactions as conversations, rather than as interviews, to avoid falling into the trap of asking question after question.

3. Strike a good balance between the personal and the professional

It’s true, everyone (most of the time) likes talking about themselves. So, you don’t have to strictly stick to the “what do you enjoy about working here?” and “what has been the most rewarding thing you’ve worked on?” questions. If someone mentions where they grew up or went to uni, for instance, ask them about this. If someone mentions a hobby or a weekend plan, try to build a conversation around it.

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Having said that, however, make sure to be aware of the balance between the personal and the professional. While it’s good to learn about an individual in a more well-rounded way, as this often makes for a more relaxed interaction, it’s also important to not ask questions which are inappropriate for a professional environment.

4. Try to hold your own in group conversations

This is arguably something that comes with practice, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s far easier to be stood in a group listening passively than joining in and contributing to the conversation, particularly if you come in later. Sometimes, the associate or partner might notice that you’ve joined in and introduce themselves to you, making this a bit easier.

However, if that’s not the case, take a few minutes to listen to the conversation so that you can have a think about what to contribute, and then chime in. It can definitely be challenging to find the right moment and grasp the conversation well enough to participate when you’ve joined midway through, but it’s an important skill to develop since most networking events will involve navigating group scenarios.

5. Gauge which connections you want to maintain

So, you’ve made a lap of the room and have spoken to several people. Some conversations probably flowed really well while some might have just been plain awkward. Make a mental note of the lawyers that you learnt the most from, and these are ones it makes sense to message on LinkedIn to continue the connection.

Filtering out in this way will make sure that you don’t leave each event with tons of people to message without remembering what you chatted about. Rather, the people you do message will have a solid conversation to remember you by and the connection is likely to be more genuine and memorable.

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